At the start of 2020, many CEOs had modest to high growth goals for their organizations. And then the COVID-19 pandemic struck. How have CEOs’ goals and priorities shifted in today’s new reality? And what lessons have they learned as they move forward?
Pete Hayes, CMO and principal at the consulting firm Chief Outsiders, shared insights from a recent survey his company conducted with more than 170 chief executives from mid-market companies across retail, technology, construction, healthcare and others on where they expect their businesses to be 6 months from now. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Judith Aquino: According to the survey, most of the CEOs saw economic conditions improving in December 2020 or later. What factors do you think influenced that prediction and will you be conducting follow up surveys to see if that estimate changes?
Pete Hayes: That data point shows that most did think different things would be happening by six months out, so it’s kind of the end of the year timeframe, but almost the same amount of folks thought things would be improving sooner so it was a little bit of a split, but we do plan to come back to market after the third quarter to get a checkpoint.
But the things that we asked later on in the survey itself, it looked as though that was their expectation related to several, you know understandable, factors that you know what’s going on with the COVID trends themselves in terms of infection rates and so forth.
They came into this year, very optimistic about their own growth plans. In fact, they’re very optimistic about having a pretty strong year even though you know economic forecasts, you know, were suggesting slower growth. So it looks as though you know companies are kind of split there, but those factors are the things that they’re watching, not surprisingly.
What other results did you find particularly interesting or surprising?
PH: There’s a couple of areas of data points that are interesting and it has to do with the data sets that we collected…in general, you know, digital readiness and digital marketing capabilities, not surprisingly, are very, very high on the list of things to attend to. CEOs get it that customers are going to have to buy differently. So they have to provide more support through their digital channels.
And companies are having to accelerate even areas of e-commerce that weren’t on their priority list for right away. Even in the B2B space, what we’re seeing is that companies are having to find ways of getting sales without a salesperson visiting the factory. So they’re having to amp up their capabilities digitally.
CEOs are usually the visionaries, the ones with the big ideas, but it seems now they’re really buckling down and as you said, getting things done.
PH: Yeah, it’s a little bit of a surprise. The way we were looking at the past couple of months, or the past six weeks, you know, our advice to CEOs is just recognize you’re having to do five years of strategic planning in the next six weeks. And what seemed to resonate is there’s a few things that we [CEOs] might want to check on and shift and, you know, the data also showed that they were largely looking at new markets, new offerings, making pricing changes and doing those things you can expect you would tweak and finesse.
But overall, they believe that their core strategies—most businesses, their core strategies for growth—are solid and they just have to get things done.